Refugees in Lexington
By Catherine Ahmad '18 Throughout the world discussions concerning the Middle East, terrorism, and the conflicts that are imbedded within the region have gained a pressing importance. In the latter half of 2015, conflicts developed within Western nations as displaced Syrians sought safety and security in Europe and the United States. The consequences of that debate opened up a much more personal debate reaching into the homes of European and American citizens. Will we allow Syrian refugees to reside among us?
Almost instantly, concern over our own safety and wellbeing was raised. Donald Trump, a front runner in the Republican Presidential race, has called for the surveillance of mosques and believes that the Syrian refugees should not be let into the country. However, Lexington City Council member Patrick Rhamey had a very different response to the Syrian refugee crisis. In a statement on November 19th, he wrote "We declare it our patriotic duty as Americans to welcome refugees, from Syria or otherwise, with open arms into our community, commit to assist them in whatever manner we are able, and encourage our fellow citizens to do likewise.” Despite Rhamey’s sentiments, it is unlikely that Syrian refugees will be entering the city of Lexington anytime soon - although rumors to the contrary exist as well.
The vast majority of Virginia’s congressional representatives have voted for stronger measures for the screening of Syrian refugees. Only Bobby Scott and Don Beyer, two Democrats, voted against these new proposals. The legislature asks for the FBI to conduct background checks on both Syrian and Iraqi refugees prior to entering Congress. In addition, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and US National Intelligence would have requirements to certify before Congress that each individual refugee would not be a security threat.
As Congress continues to debate policy with regard to Syrian refugees, Governor-elect and Washington and Lee alumnus Matthew Bevin has come under fire for his stance on the Syrian refugee crisis. Opposing allowing Syrians in Kentucky, Bevin stated, “The recent terrorist attacks in Paris serve as a warning to the entire civilized world that we must remain vigilant. It is imperative that we do everything in our power to prevent any similar attack by evildoers from taking place here in America.” A cartoonist at the Lexington Herald-Leader depicted a carton in which Bevin is seen as cowering behind his desk from the fear of his adopted children being terrorists. Bevin condemned this portrayal and denounced the cartoon as racist and deplorable. Bevin and his wife adopted four Ethiopian children in 2012.
As this debate continues to boil amongst policymakers and members of communities, it is vital for us to exchange these discussions with respect. Lawmakers and citizens alike cannot serve the best interests of our localities when they choose to embrace name-calling and partisanship. The Syrian refugee debate, as well as its consequences, are not over. But what remains under evaluation is our response, both locally and globally, to the ongoing Syrian civil war and the resulting refugee crisis.